Israel approves plan to attack Rafah but keeps truce hopes alive

March 16, 2024 9:49 am

Israel approved on Friday a potential assault on the Gaza city of Rafah while also keeping ceasefire hopes alive with plans to send another delegation to Qatar for talks on a possible hostage deal with Islamist militant group Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had ok’d a plan to attack the city on the southern edge of the shattered Palestinian enclave where more than half of its 2.3 million residents are sheltering after five months of war.

Global allies and critics alike have urged Netanyahu to hold off attacking Rafah, for fear of mass civilian casualties. But Israel says it is one of the last strongholds of Hamas whom it has pledged to eliminate and that residents will be evacuated.

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“The IDF (Israeli Defence Force) is preparing operationally and for the evacuation of the population,” Netanyahu’s office added in its brief statement on the Rafah attack plan.

No timeframe was given and there was no immediate evidence of extra preparations on the ground.

Negotiators failed this week to reach a ceasefire agreement in time for the Ramadan Muslim holy month. But Washington and Arab mediators are still determined to reach a deal to head off an assault on Rafah and let in food to stave off starvation.

The Israeli statement said that Hamas’ demands for the release of hostages remained unrealistic, but an Israeli delegation would still head to Doha once the security cabinet had discussed its position.

“Netanyahu is manoeuvring and playing time game to conduct more crimes of genocide. He isn’t interested in reaching an agreement,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Israel has rejected claims of genocide, saying it is purely focused on destroying all Hamas fighters.